Starting Wednesday, families struggling to afford internet during the COVID-19 pandemic can apply for a discount on their monthly bills.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program, administered by the Federal Communications Commission, will temporarily provide eligible households discounts of up to $50 a month toward broadband service.

The program is funded by $3.2 billion approved by Congress in December, as part of COVID-19 relief legislation, to help households with low incomes stay connected to the internet.

The FCC says on Wednesday households can enroll through an approved provider or go to  GetEmergencyBroadband.org to begin the process.

The pandemic has underscored the digital divide, or the gap between those who have access to computers and the internet and those who do not.

“Families in every corner of the country have been struggling to get online throughout this pandemic,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a news release.

report from last summer, looking at 2018 American Community Survey data, found that 16.9 million kids didn’t have high-speed home internet to support online learning and 7.3 million children didn’t have a desktop computer, laptop or tablet, exacerbating the so-called “homework gap.”

In Michigan, 49 broadband providers are participating in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, including AT&A, WOW!, Comcast/Xfinity and Verizon.

Here’s a rundown of how the program works:

What is the Emergency Broadband Benefit program? 

Eligible households can get a discount of up to $50 a month toward their broadband service and households on qualifying tribal lands can get a discount of up to $75 a month. They may also be able to receive a one-time discount of up to $100 discount on a laptop, computer or tablet from some providers if they contribute between $10 and $50 toward the purchase price. The program is for one monthly service discount and one device discount per household, according to the FCC.

Who is eligible? 

The FCC says households are eligible if someone in that household meets one of the following criteria: their income is at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or they participate in federal programs, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), Medicaid or Lifeline phone services; they were approved to get benefits under free and reduced school lunch or breakfast programs; they received a federal Pell grant during the current award year; they experienced a “substantial loss of income” because of job loss or furlough since Feb. 29, 2020, and the household had a total income last year at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or they meet the eligibility criteria for low-income or COVID-19 programs set by participating providers.

How can people apply? 

Enrollment begins Wednesday. The process requires internet at nearly every step.

There are three ways to applyonline through the Universal Service Administrative Company at GetEmergencyBroadbandband.org, by mail and by contacting a participating internet provider. People can search through an online portal to find a company and the instructions.

Some providers require applicants to first go to GetEmergencyBroadbandband.org to verify eligibility.

After that, applicants can call Verizon at 800-VERIZON (837-4966) or 800-922-0204 AT&T at 800-288-2020; and WOW! at 888-815-1718. People interested in Comcast/Xfinity can sign up for internet services at InternetEssentials.com or Xfinity.com, and then enroll at Xfinity.com/EBB. Existing Internet Essentials customers automatically qualify and can enroll directly at Xfinity.com/EBB. Call 800-XFINITY (934-6489) for customer service.

Applications, which will be available online to print out at https://getemergencybroadband.org/how-to-apply/ Wednesday, and proof of eligibility can also be mailed to the Emergency Broadband Support Center: P.O. Box 7081, London, KY 40742. Eligibility documents may include benefit award letters, tax returns, identify verification, proof of address, or layoff or furlough notices.

The provider will receive the funds directly from the federal program and households will get a discount each month.

How long will the benefits last?

The program will end when money runs out or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services marks an end to the COVID-19 health emergency, according to the FCC. After the program ends, households will need to opt in to continue receiving services and they will be billed the provider’s general monthly rate.

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA.

Contact Nushrat: nrahman@freepress.com; 313-348-7558. Follow her on Twitter: @NushratR. Sign up for BridgeDetroit’s newsletterBecome a Free Press subscriber.

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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